Pronunciation of H in Latin
  • I was considering the pronunciation of one of my choir's choral pieces this week, Hodie Christus Natus Est. I realized that I have always taught my choirs to make all Latin "H's" silent (excepting mihi and nihil).

    Then it dawned on me that I have never pronounced "Hodie" as "Odie." Like a good director, I consulted my Latin Pronunciation Guide in the Parish Book of Chant, where I was reassured that the H is never aspirant, always silent, meaning my pronunciation of "Hodie" is wrong.

    On the other hand, John Collins' Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin informs me that the H is pronounced like in "hat," not like in "hour." In other words, it is pronounced.

    So, long story short, is a Latin H pronounced? How do you say "Hodie?"
  • Me, I say miki and nikil and mostly give a light glottal stop in other cases. Otherwise Abraham would be Abram!

    It's very difficult in English to start a word with a vowel, minus the stop, as you can see if you try pronouncing "flyover" and "fly over". So "hodie" inevitably gets the stop, but no aspirate.

    My 2c. I am not a native speaker.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Following typical Ecclesiastical pronunciation rules, Abraham would not be Abram, but, phonetically, ah-brah-ahm. It's like saying Hawai'i - think Abra'am.
  • The - in h-a is what I call a glottal stop.
  • donr
    Posts: 969
    I believe that the H in Hodie is pronounced as in hat just as your Primer suggests.
  • Don,

    That's how I've always pronounced it, at least in that word. I suppose I am puzzled by my own (unarticulated) inconsistency in my pronunciation of the H. For "Hodie," I have pronounced it. For other words (homo, hominum, hora), I lean towards what Andrew above suggests - a slight glottal stroke.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    I mostly agree with everyone about 'h', but let me play Devils' Advocate by giving an example.

    Archaic Latin diphthong 'ai' ,pronounced 'eye', became in Classical Latin 'ae', still pronounced 'eye', although as the centuries went by, it started to be pronounced "ay", and then was written simply 'e', which gives us things like 'in celum' and the first 'e' in 'e-u-o-u-a-e'. The point here is that the scribes wrote what they heard, not what they were supposed to write: 'ae' sounded like 'e', so they just wrote 'e'.

    If that's true, why didn't the 'haitches' disappear also? Why don't we have manuscripts with 'aec dies' and 'odie Christus natus est'. (and maybe there are, I just don't know). And like Andrew, even though our schola follows the rules about 'h', we never sing 'oc', 'aec', or 'ic'. Maybe just a traditional emphasis on 'hic, haec, hoc'?

    I honestly don't know, but it seems like it's a bit more complicated than 'don't pronounce h except in mihi and nihil'.

  • I humbly suggest that this is another place where we have to temper the rules with some regard for practicality. I also pronounce 'h' between vowels (mihi) with a 'k' sound, just so the word can be understood by the hearer. Nobody in our congregation would understand 'aec,' or 'oc' so I would pronounce the 'h' there like in 'hat.' If I were an Italian singing in Italy I might do something different (e.g., leaving out the aspiration since people would be less inclined to expect it anyway). I think it would be good to measure any kind of practice against what the hearer will understand. This also takes into account the acoustics of your church - in a small non-reverberant space I would guess you could be stricter, but accomodations have to be made where the sound is bouncing around a lot and you need more consonants.
  • Lautzef,

    What kind of liturgical Nazi are you? "Tempering rules?" I demand inflexibility!

    Hilariously, even though I've found differing opinions on this pronunciation in the books I've searched so far, all of them still speak in absolutes.

    The H is always mute, or the H is always pronounced. We may not know how to say something, but dang it, we will do it consistently!
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    Because English is the ONLY LANGUAGE in the history of forever that has inconsistent spelling or pronunciation. All other languages, especially Latin, are far superior in this regard, and we should feel ashamed to have been born into such a ridiculous language.

    (That's the message I usually get from Latin-pronunciation guides.)
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    The - in h-a is what I call a glottal stop.


    Yes, that is indeed the technical terminology.
  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    In general I follow the rules about not pronouncing "h" except in "mihi" and "nihil." But there have to be exceptions. Andrew, I would definitely agree with your gut instinct of pronouncing the "h" in "Hodie," because without it, it sounds like "odie," which I believe is a form of "odium," meaning "hatred." Not really a great word to start off Christmas!

    We all know diction "rules" need to constantly be modified for singing different pieces of different styles and periods across different vocal registers.

    Besides, "ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation" is kind of an artificial and fuzzy concept. In the US we more or less attempt to follow what became traditional in Rome, but "French Latin" or "German Latin" would sound quite different (and no less legitimate, liturgically OR artistically).

    [The Anglicans have even retained some Latin traditions, and pronounce it according to English rules. Hence "vivat" is pronounced "vɑɪvæt." It kind of hurts listening to it.]

    Jon
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    [The Anglicans have even retained some Latin traditions, and pronounce it according to English rules. Hence "vivat" is pronounced "vɑɪvæt." It kind of hurts listening to it.]


    Vai-vatt! ruh-gine-uh!

    oi! vey!
    Thanked by 3jpal Andrew Motyka IanW
  • Paul_D
    Posts: 133
    In the Sanctus, do you sing "Osanna in excelsis" or "Hosanna in excelsis"? Perhaps your Hodie/Odie should be consistent with that. (And is that Osanna or Ozanna, as is often heard, ... in the Zanctus.)
  • Osanna.

    I doubt that even St Augustine would have heard "Odie Christus natus est" as "O Hatred, Christ is born". It's a kind of Latin mondegreen.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • To say that ae began to be written in manuscripts as e when the diphthong monophthongized is only partly true. For a long time, ae was regularly written as a digraph, usually in words where classical ae existed, but sometimes in places where it never was. In other words, for a few hundred years in the early middle ages, scribes were trying to write as they thought the language should be written, not as they were pronouncing it. And yes, sometimes one finds h's left out where they should be and included where they shouldn't. In any case, most linguists think that even in classical Latin h was pronounced with less force than it is pronounced in modern English.
  • I was enticed by this discussion of pronunciation of the H. Our choir has been involved in what nearly became a conflict over whether to sing Hallelujah or Alleluia in an Easter piece introduced by our organist who is not Catholic. The piece is a standard in the Methodist hymnal. Several members asked if we could sing Alleluia since that is what is traditionally heard in the Catholic Church. She is adamant that it is Hallelujah, even though a very similar piece with the same melody is in our hymnal using Alleluia. It is a shame to have such a riff over the pronunciation of the H! Are there guidelines for this? Our hymnal only includes two pieces using Hallelujah...The Battle Hymn of the Repulic and Soon and Very Soon...neither of whom are of even vaguely Catholic origin.
  • Ah, but "Alleluia" is a Hebrew word, and comes with its own baggage!

    For that, I would simply default to whether or not the score has an "H" in is or not. If there's an H, sing it. If not, leave it out.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    The "ah-ah" moment (no aspirate) was brought down from the mountain by the Turk at a colloquium (1st Pittsburgh, I think.) "Mee-kee' period. "Aw-dee-ae" (slight dipthong) as well as "Aw-sah-nah" (the sibilant "s" is more problematic, actually.) So, with due respect to maestro Collins, I awnestly swear allegiance to the sabre clad, awnorable Turk of South Carolina. YMMV. Eestory weel prove eem weektorius!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • [The Anglicans have even retained some Latin traditions, and pronounce it according to English rules. Hence "vivat" is pronounced "vɑɪvæt." It kind of hurts listening to it.]


    Sure. One of my earliest experiences of liturgy in an Episcopal parish was attending Morning Prayer on a Sunday, and the officiant told us, "We will sing the Venite (vuh-NIGHT-ee) in the hymnal, no. 695." I thought, "Is he kidding? Vuh-NIGHT-ee?"

    But I've since gotten used to there being an English way of pronouncing Latin, which seems fine if you're saying some Latin words while otherwise speaking English. Church Latin would be used for singing a Palestrina or Byrd motet, of course.

    Another fine canticle is the Benedicite (ben-uh-DYE-city).
    Thanked by 2jpal IanW
  • I think the English pronunciation would last exactly until someone had to sing "in Sigh-coo-la Sigh-coo-lo-room."
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    "Aw-dee-ae" (slight dipthong)


    Just curious... why the slight diphthong?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    You know, SR, that has been a difficult one for me all my life long, it seems. I got humiliated by an Israeli conductor in undergrad class for adding the slight dipthong in a lesson, went into "rictus" about using the pure vowel, and at the same colloquium with Turk, someone asked him also about the slight closure to the long e, and he stuck to his sabre about that too. I think Mahrt also endorses the not so pure "e" vowel as well. Who am I to quibble?
    I, for one, would drop all this talk if choirs would for once and for all time stop the laziness of using "ih" in the Latin "i" because they're not processing when they sing. S-I-N-G (as in you vill zEEng und like eet!) Folks do it constantly, even at colloquia.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517
    Church Latin is simply Roman Latin. This was recommended by Christoph Bernhard in the seventeenth century and was propagated by Abbot Guerranger as an aspect of his ultramontanism; it is now represented by the rules for pronunciation in the Liber Usualis. In every country, there is slippage; thus in France, one often hears Italian consonants and slightly French vowels. In England it is not slippage, it is a matter of pride to keep certain British pronunciations of Latin. The Roman pronunciation includes the silent h and "slightly voiced" s between two vowells. Mihi and Nichil as miki and nikil depend upon a pre-classical and continuing vernacular pronunciation in the classical period. It is spelled nichil in medieval spellings. Though the Liber does not address this, I always cultivate an Italian hard c and k without aspiration; the English overdo the opposite: Khhhee-rie. By the way, the spelling Osanna is found often in Renaissance sources. The name of a member of my choir is Rossella, which people often pronounce Rozella; she very urgently corrects them, instructing them on the difference between the unvoiced double s and the voiced single s.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I was doing fine with Prof's exegesis until mention of Ms. Rossella (TWO double consonants in Italian!) Now I've got a huge jones to go get a PEETZ-zah! Speaking of pizza, has anyone else on the planet noticed in the great Spike Lee film, "DO THE RIGHT THING," that the Brooklyn owner of "Famous Sal's" pronounces "pizzaria" as "pihz-uh-REE-uh?" Or it just me?
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 462
    Because English is the ONLY LANGUAGE in the history of forever that has inconsistent spelling or pronunciation. All other languages, especially Latin, are far superior in this regard, and we should feel ashamed to have been born into such a ridiculous language.


    My Greek teacher often interjected, "English is a silly language." Put that in your pipe and smoke it Tolkien!
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    I suppose I've never really issued more than a casual reminder to my choirs when I've encountered a slight diphthong, but since my move to North Carolina I've become very conscious of them. "Doh..ew-mee-nay..ee" is way too much. Reminds me of a blooper reel from "Wheel of Fortune" where a woman, seeking "n," yells at length, 'ayyyyuhhhhhn'
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    A practical rule of thumb, rather than principled, is to use whatever least impedes good pitch and comprehensibility with your forces at hand in the acoustic you have ... (more of an issue with German than Latin, but something to keep in mind when wrestling with choir members who've learned different practices under different directors/teachers in the past: it's often useful to say, screw the conflicting rationales, I need y'all to sing in this way because I've decided y'all will sound best doing so.)
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    What is the phonation of "y'all" up in Bywahston, Liam?;-)
    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    What is the phonation of "y'all" up in Bywahston

    aaaaaa yaaaaaa
  • Note to Charles: I learned many years ago, at a fairly reputable university, from a true
    Charlestonian (SOB), that the proper genitive form of y'all is yall's- both singular & plural.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,943
    And in some parts of the country ... "y'all" is singular and "all y'all" is plural (nominative and objective), "y'all's" and "all y'all's" are the corresponding singular and plural gentive forms for them thar folks.

    And I won't even get started on "youse" and "you-uns."
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    how interesting i was just thinking about this as i was falling asleep last light. being Irish, i'm used to english speakers other parts of the world not being able to deal properly with h's, properly being defined here as in the way of the irish ;-)
    hence if which and witch, or whales and wales sound the same to you, there is no hope for you.
    of course hodie is pronounced differently to odie, its christmas.... ho ho ho.
    Thanked by 2jpal IanW
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    I went to college in Virginia some three decades ago, so I picked that up as a useful usage. Youz is not as mellifluous . . . and all y'all is just ridiculous.
    Thanked by 2melofluent CHGiffen
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    I've not ever pronounced my H's in Latin, and that is also what I teach the choir and the children at the school. For "mihi" and "nihil," I don't pronounce the H either, instead re-articulating the vowel.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    CK, attend a Turkington chant session, or a Mahrt. You'll be surprised by how your understanding of conventional practice will be authentically challenged.
  • Priestboi
    Posts: 154
    I always say try and use vowels to your advantage. This really depends on your preference, some say it and others dont. Its like those who say kvoniam instead of quoniam and those who say magnus instead of manyoos etc. My choral director say nihil and mihi with a normal h sound even though I emailed her the pronunciation from the Liber. Why bother with a silent "h"? Its such an issue to sing correctly anyway :)
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    I get this question all the time from the students: I also teach Spanish. The answer is that you simply don't pronounce the letter per the rules of the language. The same is true in Latin. The rule is that the h is not pronounced.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    CK, not if it's in the middle of mihi. Exception it may be, but it remains thus.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Mart wrote:
    In England it is not slippage, it is a matter of pride to keep certain British pronunciations of Latin. The Roman pronunciation includes the silent h and "slightly voiced" s between two vowells.


    It's not so much a matter of pride as a living tradition. The downside is that we're less likely to ask "why?", or consider how recently (as these things go) the tradition was founded, or how such things change over time and can be done differently with equal validity (I admit to a fleeting nonplussment on reading the thread title). The upside is local consistency and the living tradition thing.